You don’t think Sarah Palin, Beyonce, Pamela Anderson, Lance Armstrong, and Nicole Richie actually wrote their books? As one celeb said, “I don’t do my own typing.” Many of today’s bestselling books are the result of an author hiring a great ghostwriter. If you’re ready to hire a great ghostwriter – the following guide is exactly what you need.
Great Books Only Exist Because of the Author and Many Times That Author Hired a Ghostwriter to Get it Done
Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was written with Ken Shelton. Richard Branson in Losing My Virginity acknowledges Edward Whitley. Howard Schultz’s Onward was penned by Joanne Gordon. Many of the top-selling CEO and celebrity books are penned by someone else, but the book could not exist without the author. The ghostwriter provides the words, and sometimes some supplemental research, but not the expertise, not the story, nor the advice in the pages.
That’s all you, the author. If you hate writing, don’t have the time to do it, or you just know you aren’t the best person for the job, a talented ghostwriter could be the right solution for you.
A ghostwriter is someone who can write your book, in your words. Good ghostwriters work hard to capture your voice to create a first draft.
So, what exactly does a great ghostwriter do?
First, the ghostwriter needs to flush out the concept for the book. Which means, identifying the ideal reader, and the hook of the book. Working with the author, the ghostwriter will create the outline for the book.
Second, the ghostwriter has to get the content from the author. Usually, this involves interviewing the author extensively to capture their voice and expertise. The ghostwriter also will research the subject matter to supplement the content as needed.
At some point early on the writer will send a sample over to the author to check the tone of the writing. Then, they will put their head down and their hands to the keyboard and complete the first draft.
Finally, the writer then will take feedback on the full first draft from the author and rework the manuscript.
Once it’s a solid draft, it’s off the editors, and over to you, to review and revise.
If that sounds like exactly what you need help with, your next question probably is where can I find a ghostwriter to hire?
Ghostwriters are everywhere. Here are three ideas for where to find a great ghostwriter:
Number one, you can ask your friends who have written a book.
Some may disclose they worked with one; others may say something like, “Oh, I have a friend who worked with one.”
Number two, check out writing groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Many of the groups are closed groups, but if you write the admin and let them know what you’re looking for, they just might put up a post on your behalf. When I was hiring a ghostwriter for Book Launchers, I received about 20 highly-qualified applicants from a writers group one of the people on my team is a part of. It was a fantastic source.
Number three, Google business ghostwriters.
I connected with a few ghostwriting service companies when I was trying to find a very specific, skilled ghostwriter for one of our clients. The ghostwriting service companies can be great if you want to have one source for a bunch of potential writers.
Four, post a job where you might hire other freelancers, like Guru.com, Upwork.com, Reedsy.com or Scriptd.
Posting a job to hire a great ghostwriter could result in an overwhelming number of responses though. So, the next question you might ask is: How do you know when you’ve found a good ghostwriter?
We’ll cover that in a second but first, let’s explore what it can cost to hire a ghostwriter.
When Book Launchers first started, we only helped you write your book with writing coaches. We didn’t have ghostwriters on our team. Then one of our clients said, “I don’t want to be the one to put the words to my expertise.” I tried to argue the benefits of writing his book, but he insisted, “It’s not a good use of my time. Find me a writer.”
My first call was to a ghostwriter I knew would be perfect for him. She’s written at least one Wall Street Journal bestseller. My client loved her, but her price tag of $50,000 to $60,000 was a bit of a budget killer. So I brought in another writer who was a well-respected sports biography ghostwriter. He couldn’t disclose a lot of his clients as many people don’t want you to know that they didn’t write their book. I expected him to be cheaper than the other one, not realizing that his books were actually top sellers – he just couldn’t disclose that he’d written them. He came in at $1 per finished word.
Most business books are somewhere around 50,000 to 75,000 words, so you can see how $1 a finished word could add up.
So, I expanded my search and I started interviewing all kinds of people who had ghostwriting experience. Most of the other quotes came in between $25,000 and $35,000 for a book. The cheapest ghostwriter I found, and they were a service, not a single writer, starting at $18,000.
When you understand that it will take most ghostwriters up to six months to write your book, the prices make sense. Great ghostwriters dedicate a lot of their life and time to this project.
If you come to a ghostwriter with all of that and ideas for the stories and the content you will put in the book – you’re going to save money because the writer can focus on writing the material. But, most authors aren’t that organized and need help doing that.
It’s not just a matter of putting words to the paper; it’s a matter of making sure they would be words that you, the real author of the book, would use.
Now, you can hire much cheaper writers. And the writing might even be half decent. We’ve hired great writers who could write really good books, but it only took two projects before we realized they only had one writing voice!
When you hire a ghostwriter you have to make sure they are writing in your voice. The issue is that it’s not your voice and that is so important. It’s not your book if it’s not your voice. And if someone writes in a different style than you would, then you have a mountain of work to do to redo it. Sure, you save money, but you add a whole lot of time, energy and effort to the entire project.
Bottom line: to get a skilled professional ghostwriter working on your book, you’re looking at a minimum of 25 cents per finished word. The average cost is going to be closer to 50 cents per word. The more experienced the writer and the more extensive the work you’re asking for them to do, the higher the price.
Now, how do you select a great ghostwriter?
With all of the other things figured out, including:
- Your goals for the book,
- What you need your writer to do,
- Where you are going to find your ghostwriter,
- Your desired (expected) timeline, and
- How much you expect to pay,
now it’s time to uncover the secret to screening and choosing the best ghostwriter for your project.
This isn’t as easy as you might think because most people who hire ghostwriters don’t want you to know they didn’t write their book, so this presents a pretty big challenge.
How do you evaluate a ghostwriter’s work if they’re not allowed to tell you the books they’ve written?
Many people think they just have to see what books someone has written and they will know if they are a good writer. Unfortunately, not only is that not as easy as you might think it is, the finished book is rarely anything like the first draft that the writer produces so it’s not a great evaluation of a writer.
The first challenge, however, is that most writers have signed some sort of non-disclosure and are unable to share what books they have actually worked on.
There’s a lot of ways to approach this when you often can’t find out the actual books a ghostwriter has written. Here’s how we hire at Book Launchers.
Number one, I put something in the job ad that acts as an initial screen.
For example, I ask a weird question, like their favorite fruit, or I request that they do not send a resume, but instead send a short writing sample. If they don’t follow that instruction, I immediately eliminate them. If they lack care and attention to detail when they should be showing their best self, it’s not a good sign for me. It also screens people who take life too seriously.
Number two, I make sure that they’ve worked on similar projects.
Have they written several business books before? Not just articles, but full books. At Book Launchers we get a ton of applicants for our writing position from folks with deep non-fiction experience as journalists or bloggers but they have never written a book. I don’t want to be the training ground. Writing a full book is very different than writing articles.
I’m really looking for genre compatibility and experience writing full books. Bonus points if they have written multiple books for the same company or for the same author. That speaks to the fact that they produced work that warranted a continued relationship
Number three, send them a writing test.
This is the essential step to ensure that you are getting a writer that can capture your voice. There are a few ways to test out a writer. You can record yourself telling a story or teaching a key point. Don’t make it too long – this is a test, not a chapter. Get that transcribed using rev.com or temi.com and then send that to the prospective writer. Have them turn it into a short article so you can get a sense of how they will capture your voice into words. To make this is a good test have it be something that would potentially go in your book and give them the ideal audience you’d like it to appeal to.
Number four, If you liked what they wrote, set up a time to chat.
This is essentially a personality compatibility test. A great ghostwriter should come in curious about you and ready to ask questions. Plan to be the one to get the conversation rolling though. Things I like to ask of potential writers:
- What do you love about writing non-fiction books? I’m looking for a writer that loves learning new things. Bonus points if they love to share that learning with others. There are people who LOVE writing non-fiction, telling fact-based stories, and really digging deep into areas they don’t know about. Those are the people I want to work with.
- How do you approach a ghostwriting project? There isn’t a right answer but they need a process. If someone doesn’t have an approach at all, I will be concerned.
- What’s your timeline and availability for a project? Some writers will take more than a year to write a book – so is that going to work for you.
- Finally, how do you prefer to communicate with a client? Make sure this is how you want to communicate as well.
If everything looks good, you are almost ready to hire your ghostwriter, but I recommend checking a couple of references.
Ask their former client things like, “What was it like to work with them?” “What was challenging about working with the writer? “What did you have to do to help them with the project?” And then, even ask them, “What did you think the process was like?”
Now, before you hire them for the full project, you still may want to do a tester. Maybe you pay them to write an article for you. See if they can capture your voice before you hire them to write your full book. We have someone on our team to develop the book concept before we pair our client with a writer. Once their are paired with a writer we break the project up into three milestones. The first milestone is essentially a voice check and usually consists of the first two chapters of the book.
Final Tips for Hiring and Working with a Great Ghostwriter for Your Non-Fiction Book
There are so many ways ghostwriting can go wrong, but most of the problems that arise with ghostwriters are preventable with the above steps and a few other tips to help you get the most out of your writer.
1. Be clear on your concept before you hire the writer. Some writers can help you flesh out the concept, but you can expect to pay a lot more for that work. Ultimately, it’s your job to create the concept and have a plan for how the book will flow. And then you need to help your writer capture your voice by providing materials you’ve written, talks you have given, or videos you’ve shot. The more they can get immersed in your voice, the easier it will be for them to write like as you would write.
2. Plan to speak to them at least once a week for about 60-90 minutes. Any more and the writer won’t have time to digest it and put it into writing, but any less and it’s hard for the writer to stay connected to you and the project. Leaving your writer to work on your book for weeks and weeks at a time can create a disconnect.
3. Review all the chapters carefully, but pay close attention to the first few chapters. Make sure your voice can be heard and that you are happy with the tone of the book. You don’t need to nitpick individual word choices, but you do need to make sure the book is following your plan and has your voice. If you see issues with the work early on, address it.
4. The first draft is not going to be perfect – so give the writer room to breathe. Make sure the key elements of your stories, lessons, and ideas are being presented in your voice. Don’t worry about perfection. Remember, you’re getting a manuscript from the ghostwriter, not a book. The book is developed out of that through many iterations of editing. Some authors ride the writers so hard that the writer loses their ability to write because they struggle so hard to meet those expectations. There is a balance between giving the writer feedback and making sure the writer is motivated to keep going. Which leads me to the next point.
5. Your writer is a human being. Being a professional writer doesn’t mean you suddenly aren’t afraid of being bad at what you do. Give them input and feedback to improve – don’t let things slide. At the same time, thank them, celebrate them, and be sure to tell them when they are writing something you think is great. It’s the human thing to do. And if you want the best work out of anyone, you should be celebrating the things they are doing right more than you’re pointing out all the things they need to improve.
One final note about working with a ghostwriter. You need to check your ego in favor of your book’s success.
We often have clients that demand a ‘technical writer’ or someone with ‘scientific or medical’ expertise. That is a fair expectation if your audience is limited to colleagues in your industry. But most of the time these authors want their book to be a bestseller and widely read. If you want your book to be widely read, you don’t want it full of fancy industry language.
A perfect example of the kind of writing you need can be found in Wired Magazine. They cover really technical subjects like biomechanics of athletes, electric car manufacturing, space travel, and more. And, they do it in a way that is interesting and easy to read. They speak to an intelligent reader, but not at a level that requires a PHD to understand.
Using big words unnecessarily is the quickest way to exclude the majority of readers. You need a writer that can take a complex concept and present it for a wider audience.
Good writing makes a reader turn the page, connect with the author, and rave about what they just learned. Remember that whether you’ve hired a writer or you’re writing your own book. It’s not about sounding smart, it’s about the connection with your reader.